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The town of Concord, Massachusetts, this week banned…can you guess? Not handguns, oxycontin, or texting while driving. They banned the sale of water in plastic bottles one liter (34 ounces) or less. The law states: “It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the Town of Concord on or after January 1, 2013.”

01062013-8 Drinking water is not the issue. Water is generally agreed to be healthy: it helps regulate body temperature, aid digestion, eliminate waste, keep you clean, and just feels good on a hot day. What town officials and proponents object to is both the abundance of garbage generated by the plastic bottles the water is packaged in and the environmental costs associated with creating plastic bottles.  

01062013-7Are town officials over-reacting? How much garbage is created by water bottles? Not much, right? After all, those bottles are recyclable. How is a plastic bottle created and what affect does it have on the environment? This week follow the life of a plastic bottle and explore its impact on our earth. Examine the quality of tap water versus bottled water and decide which is better.

A Water Bottle is Born—

01062013-6Until recently, if you wanted water, you grabbed a glass and turned on the tap. It cost pennies, was readily available, safe, and tasty. But, there is one thing a bottle of water has that tap water does not have: a plastic bottle. What happens to the plastic bottles after the water is gone? It is not a trick question: yes, water bottles are recyclable. Question is, what percentage of them do you predict are recycled? Where are the bottles recycled, and what does a recycled bottle become? How is a plastic water bottle created? What effects does this process have on our world? Why would a company sell what consumers already have? How were beverage companies able to convince buyers to buy bottled water? Annie Leonard steps up to answer these questions in the video, The Story of Bottled Water.

PBS’ Gregory Warner further investigates why people buy bottled water, and the marketing angles used by the beverage companies. How might tap water change its image? What would a campaign that promotes tap water look like? Why do people drink bottled water? He shares his findings on an episode of POVBorders called Bottle This. Click the button to watch and listen

Which Water is Better?—

Water bottles labels indicate it is pure mountain spring water, and by extension, safer, tastier, and ‘greener’ than common tap water. But is that true? The article, Bottled Water Myth Versus Reality, sets the record straight and the EWG shares some bottled water facts.

01062013-5Still, do you wonder, what is in your water? Find out. The Frontline interactive asks beverage companies, non-government agencies, and environmental groups five questions about bottled and tap water: How safe is it? Where does it come from?  Who regulates it? Who is number one? What is it kept in? Read the responses to each question.

The POVBorders story mentioned water companies provide consumers with reports about the quality of their water. The EPA requires this be done annually. It also requires that tap water meet certain standards. Of course, a report is only helpful if you know how to read it and understand what information it contains. Study an annotated example of a Washington DC water quality report to learn what information is shared, what each contaminant is, and what levels of each are acceptable.

01042013-1The FDA regulates bottled water; however, bottle water companies are not required to share information about source or quality. Instead, independent, non-governmental agencies such as the Environmental Working Group try to educate and to protect consumers. The EWG  researches and publishes a Bottled Water Scorecard. Read an overview of their report. What three basic pieces of information does the report assess? Which brands of bottled water do you drink? What scores did those brands earn and why? What are the recommendations and what is your response to them? Do you think it is important to know the source, quality, and purification methods of bottled water? Did any brands of bottled water score an A or a B? Peruse the brands that were placed on the EWG’s Shelf of Shame. Read about their methodology. Then, check out their tips. Which are ideas you can implement?

01062013-4For a summary of the key costs associated with bottled water, turn to the infographic, The Facts about Bottled Water. Click on the graphic to see the whole thing. Which points do you have questions about? How might a bottled water company respond to these facts? Which points do you find most compelling? How will it change your water-drinking habits?